By Mayran Osman
Anti-blackness is prevalent in many communities, it is a result of how different cultures have had anti-blackness deeply rooted throughout many generations. It is important to highlight that anti-blackness is not the result of Islam, as Islam teaches that everyone is equal regardless of their skin colour. These ideologies of anti-blackness arise from several places such as Arab supremacy, the effect of colonialism that occurred in Africa during the 1870’s – 1900’s, and even colourism.
The experiences of black Muslims differ depending on the colour of their skin tone, if they are lighter in complexion they are viewed as being Muslim due to fitting the popular image of a stereotypical Muslim, which is viewed as a person from the Middle East. However, if they are darker in complexion, they are viewed as not being Muslim as they do not blend in with the stereotypical image of a Muslim.
Upcoming modest fashion blogger Sumaya Ali, who is of Somali descent, explains how she has been ridiculed for her skin tone and features by non-black Muslims, “I encountered anti-blackness whilst working in retail. I had a Muslim female, who told me to lighten my skin, so I could be more ‘beautiful’ and how ‘being black was seen as being dirty’. She wanted me to ‘remove my black skin’ so that I could be a ‘Muslim properly’. She believed that you couldn’t be both black and Muslim.”
Muslims have created many spaces, where they showcase and share their work with each other. Dubai Modest Fashion Week is one of many; the event exhibits the best talents of modest fashion worldwide. The organisers have been criticised for the lack of representation of Black Muslim female bloggers on multiple occasions. It is evident from their guests that they usually favour lighter skinned, white passing or revert Muslims who fit Eurocentric beauty standards. They have not taken any measurements to change or ‘diversify’ the bloggers invited, which underlines their stance on the situation.
However, founder of Female Muslim Creatives, Najwa Umran decided to take a stand and create a hashtag on Instagram named #BlackMuslimahExcellence which gave black Muslim females, especially modest fashion bloggers a space to feature their work and create their own narrative. Umran, who is of Eritrean descent, mentions how she has not experienced any blatant anti-blackness in the Muslim Community towards her, where someone would out rightly be discriminative or prejudice due to her light skin colour. She states: “I am light skin so I can pass as many things, I would be able to blend in a Pakistani or a Somali mosque. However, my first experience of anti-blackness was at a BBC interview where me and other panellists were discussing the lack of representation at Dubai Modest Fashion Week 2017 and how I created the hashtag #BlackMuslimahExcellence on Instagram. The host asked whether someone could be black and Muslim, that was racist. I don’t think it is our place to force to be included in these spaces. Rather, we should create our own spaces and not appeal to the moral of our oppressors as Angela Davis said. We need to value ourselves and realise we bring so much more to the table than to beg to be included.” Najwa adds the best way to overcome this issue is communities taking ownership over their inherited racism, “Calling out their racist friends, family members and bringing event organisers into account when they attend events where all speakers are Arab/South Asian.”
STORM Model, Shahira Yusuf, of Somali descent, notes how anti-blackness tends to be played down through masquerades of racial ‘banter’ where being darker skin is represented as ‘unappealing’. Shahira states: “I’ve experienced anti-blackness in the Muslim community quite a few times myself. For instance when I’ve been around some Asian and Arab Muslim friends and they’ve made racist remarks as a way of ‘insulting’ others. An example would be when an Algerian friend of mine a few years back compared a Tanzanian girl to a ‘monkey’ and she assumed that I wouldn’t be offended as if I’m not black? I confronted her about it there and then and stopped being friends with her. She did apologise so I forgave her but I couldn’t see myself being friends with her anymore. It took many years for me to speak to her again.” She expressed how Black Muslim women are the ones creating trends and shaping modest fashion, however, their ideas are being taken by others and they are getting credit for it, on top of that they are not included in big scale events. Shahira mentions how visible support is needed, “As a Black Muslim woman that models, I feel that supporting us online is not enough. We need to see action. We need to see the Muslim community collectively support our successes in person too.”
Sumaya articulates her disdain for the Dubai Modest Fashion Week and how Black Muslim women are now creating their own opportunities, “There are so many talented black women on social media and they couldn’t even find one. It’s become so obvious that we are not welcome at their events. Ever since DMFW were exposed and dragged for filth, black women created their own platforms where we support each other. Why beg to be included when we can create our table and offer seats to our counterparts?”
Sumaya mentions how non-black Muslims always use the religion as a defence mechanism to state how they cannot be racist. She mentions Bilal RA, the first black convert in Islam, he was one of the most trusted and loyal companions of the Holy Prophet Mohammed PBUH: “Non-black Muslims always throw the word ‘Ummah’ and recite the story of Bilal (RA) whenever black Muslims talk about anti-blackness. It is as if, ‘I can’t be racist, just look at Bilal (RA).’ We get it. Don’t hide behind the religion. Use that same energy to strengthen the Ummah.”
Shahira states that the best way to overcome anti-blackness in the Muslim community would be to start shaping the mind of the younger and future generations, in the case of racist behaviour being the ‘norm’ at home. She affirms, “For example at Muslim schools or within mosques during Arabic classes, they should have lessons on racial injustice and the importance of learning the History behind anti-blackness, where it stems from and why it’s absolutely not acceptable.”
The first step to overcoming anti-blackness in the Muslim community is acknowledging the racist and ignorant views people hold. It is important that these issues are addressed and tackled, from then dialogue can be created around other ways to improve.