With the growing rise of Islamophobia, and the systems of racism and oppression that exist both within and beyond the Muslim world, it is testing times for global black Muslims who straddle the intersections of race, faith, gender and class. It has never been more important for us – global black Muslims – to come together in solidarity and reclaim the centre of our own narratives so that we may, in the words of Audre Lorde, “define ourselves for ourselves” before we are tragically defined by others. As a Literature student, I know how important it is for all minoritized communities to have, and most importantly to own, the tools of representation that empower them with complete autonomy of expression. Literature and art can be a powerful and provocative way of addressing and breaking down some of the barriers and misconceptions that prevail: indeed, it is through these forms that we give voice to marginalized stories, histories and experiences that transform the way we think about ourselves, the world and the greater spiritual meaning of life.
In no particular order of rank, here are three of my favourite (excluding TBMT-UK, of course!) social media platforms that give voice to the rich narratives, cultures and histories that make up the global black Muslim community.
Melanin Rich Muslimahs
Created by @miskimuse and @hausofriya (Instagram), Melanin Rich Muslimahs is a Photoblog that aims to “share the melanin diversity of our black beloved Muslimahs”. A powerful exploration and celebration of black Muslim womanhood, Melanin Rich Muslimahs draws upon the personal tales and narratives of black Muslim women from a diverse range of backgrounds, using both photography and personal testimonies to connect the experiences of black Muslim women across Africa, the UK, Canada, America, Australia and France.
Here are some of my favourite explorations and celebrations of black Muslim womanhood:
“I love my blackness because it’s my legacy, my history, my identity and my pride. I love my melanin dipped in chocolate, bronzed in elegance. I love being black and muslim. I love my blackness because God has created us in his image, in a perfect way!"
Muslimah living in France, @uneafricaine_
“I love being a Black Muslim Female, I feel like that in itself should be a super power. I have three of the most controversial identities and I love every bit of it. I take pride in my blackness because when I have a daughter I want to make sure she NEVER makes the same mistakes that I do. I learn to love myself in order to teach my daughter to do the same. Alhamdulilah.” This Muslimah is from Canada, @madeinafrikaa
“When I had decided to take off my hijab, I had come to realized that even with the removal of my hijab, that I had intersections of other identities that had still reminded of me of existence. I hated being defined with every step I took. The questioning of my faith when I removed my hijab, the questioning of blackness when I said I was Somali, the questioning of my gender identity & how pro-black I was because of my white partner. This was all under while I was homeless and trying to find a safe space all together. Within well over and a year I realized that I was free, free to chose and be. When I cut my hair off, much shorter than my once long curls. It was a testimony to the world, that I will not be defined by my hair, by my identities, that I am not one thing but many. My sense of fashion is influenced by all parts of my identities & it is my form of worship that these identities are a blessing from God & all of them intersected to create the being I am is what reminds that I am free.” This Muslimah is from America, @halistrives
“I love my blackness the same way I love my curls conditioned in coconut oil. The same way I love my dirac when I’m fresh out of the shower and getting ready for bed with the scent of uunsi still lingering long after the coal has died down. The same way I love my shalmad with its unique colours and designs knowing there probably isn’t another one out there exactly like it. The same way I love going to our motherland and walking in the red sands barefoot knowing that I’m walking on hundreds of thousands of years of poems and stories that no other continent on this earth can equate with. The same way I love our music, our history, our love, our laughter, our joy. The same way I love that despite everything they do to tear us apart, we’re still living happy with everything we’ve been blessed with. I love my blackness because it’s home” This Muslimah is from Canada, @africa_svl
The Black Muslim Cultural Renaissance Society
If you’re like me and you like to make the most out of social media, The Black Muslim Cultural Renaissance Society (BMCR) is a good resource for those who want to learn more about the cultural achievements of black Muslims, both in a past and a contemporary context. With an aim to promote the “history, arts, skills, humanities, industries, sciences and healthy lifestyle that exemplifies the heritage and culture of Black Muslims”, particularly those from “the spiritual heritage of the Nation of Islam”, the BMCR has been known to publish rare archival photographs of historical black Muslims both in an American and diasporic context.
I will never forget the first time I stumbled across Ihssan Tahir: self-proclaimed “Sista-Queen” and artistic creator of online blog MuslimNLove. My good friend and sister Sumia (check out her poetry-prose piece, “Dalkii Hooyo: The Motherland”, an exploration of her recent trip back home to Somalia: https://sistersofempire.wordpress.com/2015/11/09/331/)) tagged me in one of Ihssan’s Facebook posts which underpinned with such clarity and sincerity the complexity of being both black and Muslim.
For the first time in my life, I felt that I was reading a literature that really “spoke” to, and in many ways healed, some of my own personal conflicts and insecurities as a black Muslim woman. There is something incredibly restorative about Ihsaan’s writing: she is unapologetically vocal and strong when she wants to be, and deeply reflective and philosophical when she needs to be. Above all, Ihsaan’s writing finds balance: something that is, I believe, very hard to achieve as a black Muslim woman pulled in various directions of expectation. MuslimNLove has helped me, and many other sisters I know, to care less about the condition of the exterior and more about the condition of the interior. Yes, her writing speaks extensively about black Muslim womanhood, but there is – without a shadow of a doubt – something valuable there for black Muslim men too.
Here are some of my favourite passages from MuslimNLove:
“You will often be misunderstood. If you are single (by choice or circumstance) folks will not get it. They will question if something is wrong with you or perhaps why no one wants you. Additionally, you may wear hijab, may not or perhaps you only cover some of the time. You will not only be judged on the frequency of when you wear it but how you wear it.
Or perhaps you are the type of woman who is strong willed, vocal and firm in your opinions. You are often, again, misunderstood. People will tell you to tone it down. You may even be reminded that men don’t like women who “talk” too much. Reality is that most of these men are insecure and use your strong personality as their excuse. Perhaps this will lead to you changing fundamental parts of your character to fit into what society wants of you.”
Watching the Islamic funeral of Muhammad Ali only reinforces the great impact that Black Muslims have had in this country.
So when Muslims from immigrant backgrounds want to control the narrative, deny us our rights as Muslims, negate the fact that Black Muslims been here remember that a Black man paved the way for you.
A Black man.
Check out Ihsaan’s podcast discussion on love, relationships and being a black Muslim woman in America: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/americanmuslim360/2016/02/04/music-moor-with-host-latifa-ali-and-guest-blogger-ihssan
Other social media platforms and authors that you should check out:
Blog: Truth to Power: A Center of Black Muslim thought, history and philosophy: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/truthtopower/
Facebook: Truth to Power: Hakeem Muhammad
Facebook: Umm Zakiyyah