Yesterday a teenager was arrested for bringing a clock to school. If you just this minute discovered social media, here is a link to the story. Take your time; I’ll wait:
“They Thought it was a Bomb; 9th Grader Arrested After Bringing Homemade Clock to School”
And no, that headline did not come from The Onion.
Today was a different story. Today young Ahmed Mohamed broke the internet and garnered support from Muslim organizations, The Jet Propulsion Lab, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and our very own President of the United States. Individuals, Muslim and non-Muslim, took to Twitter to express their outrage and to offer him and his family support. Life is about to change for young Ahmed, and it is my sincere prayer that he is able to navigate his new found notoriety with grace and that his family protects him so he can continue to be what he is – an intelligent, creative, inquisitive teenager on the cusp of doing Great Things, inshaAllah.
So, Muslims, let’s sit and talk about it. Now you and I both know that racism does exist within the Ummah, both here and abroad. The fact that I can direct you to “that Pakistani masjid” up the road is indicative of the divide that separates brothers and sisters by country of origin. And the fact that you feel uncomfortable going to “that Black masjid” in the center of town is proof that racism is alive and well in the Ummah.
This despite the fact that our beloved Prophet Muhammad, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, called out those who would judge a man by the color of his skin. A 1400-year old prelude to Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s speech, as it were. Here is a paragraph from his final sermon, in case you need a refresher:
“All mankind is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; a white has no superiority over a black, nor does a black have any superiority over a white except by piety and good action.”
So there it is, in black and white, as it were. Racism is forbidden in Islam. And as Muslims, it is our duty to strive to live according to the teachings of our beloved Prophet.
I call upon my brothers and sisters in Islam to really work to live this injunction. Reach across the boundary lines of color and ethnicity. Get out of your comfort zone. Learn how to say hello in Urdu or Hausa. Experience the sublime deliciousness of collard greens. Pray in a different masjid than you usually do. Reach out to your brothers and sisters and draw them in with love and respect. Start some classes. Visit a sick person in the hospital even if you don’t know him personally. Marry your sons and daughters to good Muslims without regard to their color or clan. Be Muslim.
And don’t stop at the gates of the masjid. Reach out to the non-Muslims in your community. We cannot segregate and ghettoize ourselves and think that we will sully our souls by interacting with those who have a different faith than we do. This is a different kind of bigotry but just as reprehensible. You live here. Live here. Live with the Black neighbor and the Latino neighbor and the Korean neighbor, Muslim or non-Muslim. You will enrich yourself and your neighbors, and they won’t be afraid of you when they know you. It’s hard for bigotry to stand in the face of a welcoming smile and a plate of baklava.
I am a European-American woman. About twenty-five years ago a Pakistani Mcdonald’s manager saw me sitting in his dining room reading a commentary of the Torah in Hebrew. He said hello and asked me about what I was reading. We chatted a bit. It was polite. I don’t think I ever saw him again but I remember him to this day. And I remember every single brown person (not a lot of white Muslims where I was) who saw me, not as an ugly ignorant kaafir or a loose woman in tight jeans, but as a person. I remember the Syrian Imaam who helped me recite my Shahadah, and his daughter who taught me surat al Fatihah. I remember Zeni, the Malaysian sister who gave me my first Qur’an and hijab. I remember Mervat, after whom my daughter is named, who taught me about Islam with her good Egyptian humor. I remember Deqa, the Somali sister, educated scientist and devoted daughter who helped raise her siblings and who taught at our Sunday classes. I remember Ehsan’s mom, wife of a successful doctor, whose awakening of faith and desire to be a practicing Muslimah brought her weekly to that same class. I remember Aisha my Black American friend, so quiet and sweet, who came to Islam through the Nation and who never said a bad word about anyone. I remember my Ethiopian friend who invited me to her house for lunch with a visiting scholar. I remember all of them. Imagine if they had only lived within their own ethnic boundaries. Imagine the good that I would have been deprived of. I can’t imagine it.
Don’t be racist. It’s as simple as that. Don’t think that your kids are too good to marry someone from another culture. Don’t think that an Arab is better than a non-Arab, or that a white person is better than a black person. If you have this mindset, then this means you still have a large element of jahiliyya in you, and you need to try to pray that away before you have to stand before Allah on Judgment Day.
I remind myself before I remind anyone else, because I’m a white girl whose dad is from the Deep South and I have to check myself to ensure I’m not making assumptions or acting in a way that asserts my white privilege or tramples over the experiences of others. I take responsibility for my actions, my inaction, and my assumptions, and I work to overcome any bad influences from my upbringing or society’s influence on me. I’m awake; I want you all to wake up as well.
So as you are congratulating Ahmed for his awesome clock and tut-tutting about the Islamophobic and racist reaction of some those in his community, remember that there is a saying attributed to Prophet Jesus, peace be upon him – don’t worry about the speck in your brother’s eye when you have a log in your own.