LONDON – As the UK marks Black History Month this October, artists, academics, and activists have launched an online series to explore the life of Black British Muslims, celebrating the largely marginalized community.
“Black Muslim students would always go to other student groups and engage in black history, and I always wondered why the Islamic society had never done anything about [it],” project co-founder Mohamed Mohamed, 26, told Buzz News on Wednesday, October 4.
“Another trigger was I always felt the faith of very famous figures were sidelined …after [Muhammad] Ali’s death it was said he transcended race and faith. Well, no, he didn’t – that’s the core of his message and his personal politics.”
The five-part series of Black and Muslim in Britain kicked off on Wednesday with an episode which addressed whether faith will play a part in the month-long celebration of black culture in October.
In a six-minute preview featuring historian Habeeb Akande and rapper Muneera Williams, black British Muslims discuss their identity.
In one candid moment, educator Amira Marius says: “People don’t recognize Islam as a ‘black’ religion a lot of the times because they don’t have that knowledge and understanding … so they see it as an adopted religion.”
The new online series hopes to challenge these kinds of stereotypes.
According to data from the Muslim Council of Britain, there are approximately 272,015 Muslims of African heritage in the UK, representing about 10% of the UK’s Muslim population.
Mohamed started the project as an event in October 2016, coming together with other young black British Muslims who felt their experiences were not part of the wider narrative and decided they would play a role in documenting the stories of influential black Muslims.
Afterwards, Mohamed said, “people left empowered and felt their identity wasn’t invisible anymore”.
Black & Muslim
At a sold-out screening at the beginning of this month, there were lively discussions with high-profile black Muslim panelists on how faith was erased from the legacy of Black Muslim icons such as Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali.
“In a society where we like to brand Muslims with one brush, usually that of the Arab and Asian brush, it is essential that we are able to realize that Muslims come in all sizes, colors, and backgrounds,” cofounder Sakinah Lenoir, a presenter at British Muslim TV, said.
Lenoir said the project is significant because it is one of the few “providing platforms and spaces to listen, hear, and be a part of the black British Muslim narrative that is all so often ignored or not seen”.
Lenoir said she hopes the series allows black British Muslims “to be inspired, stay hopeful, and just keep being and believing in themselves”.
Saraiya Bah, a co-founder and writer, said it was vital “for the black Muslim narrative to be documented for themselves, by themselves”.
“Within the Muslim community in the UK, black Muslims are marginalized with limited platforms to express the challenges we face,” she said, adding that this was the impetus to create their own platform.
She said they wanted to document the “thoughts, experiences, and the rich cultural diversity of black British Muslims in its rawest form”.
“Representation is key,” Bah continued. “And I hope that any young black British Muslims [watching] would see the participants of the series speaking their unapologetic truths and be inspired to create their own narrative and live their own unapologetic truths.”