ICNA 2019: US Muslim Experiences in Fighting White Supremacy

Since the Trump election,  US Muslims increasingly seek to understand better white supremacist systems leading to his presidency, the growth of hate crimes in the country as well as global violence like the New Zealand terrorist attack.

At the ICNA 2019 national convention, held in Washington DC, April 19th-21st, Cleveland City Councilman Basheer Jones and Ustadh Iesha Prime talked about US Muslims historical struggle against white supremacy and the systems that feed it.

White Supremacy

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In the “Unheard Voices” session, Prime talked about Many Muslims’ lack of value for and presumed assumption of guilt of black Americans stemming from the country’s racial structure.  She referenced the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Alton Sterling and Stephon Clark.

“What I am talking about is the implicit bias that we will use things to put a value on someone’s life to determine whether or not someone else had the authority or the right to not only be suspicious or prejudice of them. Basically, they have a right to die because what is the value of their life anyway?”

The concept of being presumed innocent [and] being presumed human, doing human activity is, unfortunately, not afforded to a certain group of people.”

Prime, asserted that the New Zealand attack served as a wake-up call that all Muslims are subject to violence from white supremacist systems negatively impacting black people in the US and globally.

“When we look at the Christchurch situation, basically people became shook up, because what they recognized is, ‘Wait a minute. Do you have the same idea about me that you have about them? You don’t see me with the same humanity that you see yourself? Why not? I’ve been studying with you, and I’ve been working with you. I’ve been working so hard to act, assimilate, talk and behave like you. When in your mind did I not become you?”

Prime explained how immigrant Muslims in the US benefitted from and fostered white supremacy.

“When they let a segment of Muslim immigrant populations into the country, they were basically saying, ‘I want you to be and stand like me, so you will vote like me and increase my numbers. ”

“I want us to be able to recognize the policies and the systems that stem from an ideology that we enforced, benefited from and built our entire communities upon. Even the way we discuss deen is based upon it.”

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History of Resistance

In “Islam’s Contribution to Building American Society,” Basheer Jones gave a brief history of Malcolm X, making connections between the US Muslim experience of resisting oppression.

“What the American media likes to do is pick who are your friends and who are your enemies. They’ll make you hate your friends and love your enemies. So, you have to be mindful of that.

Why is it that they want us to be afraid to love Malcolm? People need to see that Malcolm was no enemy to us; he was a friend.

When you look at Malcolm, you look at a man who said whatever it was that needed to be said even if the people of the time didn’t understand it…He inspired us to be courageous.

Malcolm left a strong legacy that was only [one] who came before and was a better man than him—and that was Muhammad.”

Jones told the audience that Black Muslims warned non-Black Muslims about the country’s white supremacist systems.

“Before Trump came, we said America is a great place. Black people told you something. You didn’t listen to us. We told you that America is not what you think it is. Now Trump came and switched it all up.

We told you about this oppression that we’ve been experiencing. Even if you don’t see the oppression, it does not mean it doesn’t exist. So, we must stand up for all.”

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US Muslim Activism

Prime and Jones talked about the importance of US Muslim activism and the need for non-Black Muslims to let go of anti-Black bias and misconceptions.

“[Activism] is the recognition that someone has humanity and a history that goes beyond the books I’ve been forced to read about you,” said Prime.

She mentioned the bias that produces erasure of Black Muslim scholarship and the need to purge them from to engage in activism effectively.

“When we began to look at how we are going to address our own implicit bias, become more educated and dissect our own hypocrisy, then not only will [we] be willing to stand up with Black Lives Matter against police brutality [but] also become effective in addressing any form of white supremacist terrorism. When [we] are willing to take that personal risk and challenge [our] privilege in a white supremacist nation, then [we] can be successful in activism.

Until [we] are willing to address that, our activism will fall flat.”

Jones asked, “How can you change the world if you don’t love it? I don’t mind us standing up for our brothers and sisters in Yemen or Syria, but what about our brothers and sisters in Chicago and Cleveland. What about the black and brown [suffering right here in America? They need your love and support as well.”

It should bother you to see black men getting shot down. If it doesn’t bother you, then how are you going to change the world? How can you be a vicegerent of the world if you only care about the people who come from our country?

If you are in a masjid called Bilal but don’t accept Black people, then that’s a problem.

How are we going to be successful if we don’t uplift our Muslim women? You’re a fool if you think you can do without our sisters. They are on the front lines every single day.”

Jones outlined how to be successful in activism.

“Take care of your home. We have family and friends [who] are speaking negativity about other people. You have to correct that.”

Get out of the idea that you only have to do for people who are Muslim. If you feel that way, then you also feel that you can only do for people who believe the type of Islam that you believe. Do for all people.

“What type of neighbor are you being in your community?” He mentioned how his mother would take his siblings and him to feed homeless people.

“What type of community service are you doing for that community?

“Love. We have to be more loving. If you’re going to be talking about the wrath of Allah without talking about the love of Allah, you’re missing the whole point.”