This article was first published on May 6, 2016, Issue 29.
Let’s put on our imagination hats.
You are walking on a deep, plush, soft carpet – the kind your foot sinks into. It’s scattered with pieces of shattered glass. Some you can see, some you can’t. You know that at any second you will step on a shard and it’s going to sting. You step on a piece! It hurt! You take the piece out and maybe put on a band aid, but then you’re back walking on the same carpet again. The pain is inevitable, almost expected, but you’re going to keep going.
It sounds silly doesn’t it?
That is how I feel around the majority of Muslims today. Surrounded by what should be a safety net, the company of other Muslim brothers and sisters becomes almost a battleground. I’m cautiously aware that at any moment there will be a prick from a sharp tongue. Sometimes it isn’t just a prick. Sometimes words descend upon me like a heavy cloud of debilitating discomfort. Like I have to get up and shake them off.
What are you even on about, Sameh?!
I’m talking about language that oppresses. Language that we don’t censor because hey, it’s just a joke. Or maybe we don’t really mean anything by it. Or maybe it just doesn’t sound offensive. Or maybe we are just ignorant of people’s experiences.
Our attitudes are only adding to the problem. ‘I have only been sent to perfect good character.’ In the history books lives the most beautiful character the world has ever seen – Muhammad (sws). We call him our role model. We love him more than our parents and more than ourselves. Strive to walk the path he showed us and embody his essence. But is that all talk? In our minds are we creating an illusion of Islam that doesn’t translate into reality?
Without good character, what is brotherhood/sisterhood? Prayer? Ramadan? Regular mosque attendance? Memorizing Quran?
What is a Muslim without the essence of Islamic characteristics?
None of that means anything. Brotherhood? It is not, when you oppress your black brothers by using the n-word like you own it. Prayer? It is not, when it does not soften your heart towards the love of Allah’s creation. Ramadan? Wasted when you expect the woman in your life to feed you like she exists to satisfy your needs. Masjid? Just another building if you move your feet away from your black sister. Quran? Just another book if you are just another ignorant jerk.
A Muslim? Just another racist, sexist, oppressor.
You kick like girl. You scream like a girl. You talk like a girl. Like it’s shameful to be a girl. How can you shame another human being for not being like you? This is how we marginalize our women. This is how they grow up thinking they are less capable, inadequate and unwanted. We create difficulty for them to accomplish anything. How did we get here? How did men get from the “protectors and maintainers” to being the biggest obstacle? This kind of attitude: when we share captions on social media saying “behind every angry woman stands a man who has absolutely no idea what he did wrong”. We have subjected our women to feel as though they are the oppressors, while it is our words that silently cut through their very existence. Our own actions perpetuate a culture that is oppressive, harmful and hurtful.
N**** whaat? N**** Please.
Harmless right? Then why would the Prophet (sws) rebuke Abu Dharr for calling Bilal the son of a black woman? I mean, he was a son of a black woman, so what’s the fuss about? CONTEXT. Context is everything. Being the son of black woman was used by non-blacks in jahiliya to oppress Bilal. Hearing that from Abu Dharr, who was not black, surely summoned some painful feelings in Bilal. Why, oh why, would you EVER want to use language that someone else finds hurtful? How does that make any inkling of sense? Why would you fuel a culture that puts another down?
Our older generation – the giants whose shoulders we stand upon – some of the habits and attitudes that you have imported from back home need to stay in the suitcase. Like maybe Arab racism towards South Asians. Like racism within one’s own population. Statements like “she’s Black but she’s pretty.” No one’s asking you to let go of the good stuff. The values and tradition. But there has to be change. There will be. Allow your heart and mind to accept that and your kids will grow up to empower the marginalized rather than put them down.
Let’s talk gay jokes. I can’t believe I have to address this in a forum to the nation of Muhammad (sws). When you equate part of someone’s identity to a negative characteristic (even perceivably, sometimes) you dehumanize them. You strip them of their right to be themselves. This is beyond certain sexual acts being haram in Islam, you will get no debate from me about that. This is about genuinely believing they are less because they sin differently than you. What happens then? Well, maybe we don’t stand up to sexual violence against gay people. Maybe we are not as outraged when homophobia kills human beings. Because maybe we decide who is “human enough” for us and who deserves our sympathy.
We have become opinionated, judgmental and oppressive. Our words pierce the hearts of the already wounded. Those who should feel safe in our company are now perpetually on guard.
I am asking you to put yourself in the Prophet’s (sws) shoes. Would he EVER have used oppressive language? Publicly or privately? Never. Never. Never. Would he EVER have been silent in the presence of institutionalized oppression? Never. Never. Never. Would he EVER have dehumanized another? Never. Never. Never. What’s that then? Was he the epitome of “political correctness”?
Wake up. Read your Quran, pray your prayers, give charity to the poor, fast your Ramadan but remember that it took around 10 years before prayer was ordained upon Muslims. That is almost half of the time since the revelation until the Prophet’s death, (sws). What were Muslims doing before that?
Perfecting good character.
Your character was not considered marginal. It wasn’t something that you try to fit into your schedule between your five daily prayers. It was, and is, the core. The heart of the Muslim body. The center of the Muslim universe.
Call me arrogant. Call me whatever you want for calling you out but the more I learn about Prophet Muhammad (sws) the more detached I become from the mainstream Muslim community. When we openly participate in an oppressive culture I cannot stay silent. We perpetuate hurt – and that needs to stop.
Do you need to check yourself?