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#BeingBlackAndMuslims: How Black American Muslims Fought Racism

DETROIT – As America marks Black History Month, Black American Muslims in Detroit are busy educating Muslims on racial justice, discussing their experiences with racism, Religion News reported.

“We wanted to reflect on the erasure of black Muslims in the conversations we were seeing online, as well as in our communities and institutions,” Namira Islam, a Bangladeshi-American lawyer living in Detroit, said.

“Because those erasures reflect what we’re seeing everywhere else.”

As Black History Month approached in 2014, Islam rallied a crew of about 20 activists and scholars to launch a new hashtag: #BeingBlackAndMuslim.

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Five years ago, the hashtag trended on Twitter not only in the United States but globally as responses showcased black Muslims’ pride and joy in their culture and experiences.

According to the Pew Research Center, black Muslims make up a fifth of US Muslims.

#BeingBlackAndMuslims: How Black American Muslims Fought Racism - About Islam

Namira Islam, executive director of MuslimARC, speaks at the organization’s Michigan Gala in Detroit. Photo by Tamanna Azim

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And while about 92 percent of black Muslims say black people face “a lot” of discrimination, only 66 percent of non-black Muslims agree.

Using the success of the hashtag, Islam, 31, and educator Margari Aziza Hill, 43, launched the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative, now commonly called MuslimARC. Their mission statement: “Education for liberation.”

“So right away we realized this was more than a hashtag,” Hill, MuslimARC’s managing director, said.

“These people all thought they were alone in their experiences. So we started to think about how to sustain the conversation, how to intervene in this issue that clearly needed to be discussed.”

#BeingBlackAndMuslims: How Black American Muslims Fought Racism - About Islam

MuslimARC executive director Namira Islam, from left, managing director Margari Aziza Hill and administrative director Hazel Gomez stand outside the site of ARCHouse in Detroit, Michigan. Courtesy photo

Educating Others

After five years of hard work, their project helped to train some of America’s largest Muslim advocacy organizations in racial justice, starting curricula for organizations to train their members about racial justice and combating Islamophobia, and for individuals to understand how to be better allies.

“I had this idea to make anti-racism accessible in the same sort of way,” said Hill.

“Because how do you even learn anti-racism if you’re not on campus or working with a social justice organization? If you’re just a regular layperson, how do you access that?”

Since that first hashtag conversation, MuslimARC says, it has reached more than 20,000 people in more than 40 cities.

#BeingBlackAndMuslim also inspired Kayla Wheeler, who teaches at Michigan’s Grand Valley State University, 2-year-old Black Islam Syllabus project, in which she is compiling educational resources on African-American Muslims based on contributions solicited via Twitter.

Wheeler, in turn, has inspired other academics to collect resources, such as the Sudan Syllabus, curated by University of Pennsylvania doctoral student Razan Idris, and the Islamophobia is Racism Syllabus, curated by 10 prominent scholars.

“For me, it’s a space to not only see myself recognized but also to challenge my own assumptions about what Islam is and who is involved in Islam,” said Wheeler.

“It does a disservice to graduate students when we teach about Islam in a way that is Arab-centric and ahistorical.”

African American Muslim history extends from the enslavement of Muslim Africans and into the Twentieth-Century Black Muslim Movement.

White Christian slaveowners stripped African Muslims of their faith and forced mass conversions. During the Black Muslim Movement, numerous African Americans reembraced the religion of their forefathers.

Seeking to preserve the legacy of the African American Muslim experience Sapelo Square partnered with Paper in February, 2018, and launched Preserving the Legacy, a portrait and interview series, to capture and conserve Black Muslim Life in the US.