Sometimes, racism hurts but it doesn’t hurt all of the time. I suppose when you have a lot of experience with it or are expecting it, the racism doesn’t hurt so much. But, when it catches you off-guard, it cuts more deeply.
A few years ago, several sisters and I volunteered to help set up before a fundraiser at a school during Ramadan. As we were preparing the table settings, one sister asked a sister that had moved away from the community what was the best new difference about her new school and neighborhood.
Three words: No black people.
She (nbp) said it again with stronger emphasis: No black people.
Ok, so sitting at table are mostly indo-pakistani (i-p including nbp) sisters, one sister of mixed ethnicity (m-e), and one black sister (muslim apple).
The i-p’s didn’t say anything not that they necessarily agreed because there was a really awkward silence as if they didn’t know what to say. The m-e rebuked her (nbp) and said, “It’s Ramadan, you’re fasting, and you’re Muslim”. Muslim Apple lowered her gaze to avoid getting angry.
I am fasting, I am fasting, indeed.
Later that evening after the fundraiser, we gathered to pray taraweeh in the school’s gymnasium which had an appallingly massive picture of the school’s mascot, a big blue devil on the wall but alhamdulillah not in the direction of the qiblah.
I found a spot easily in the rows and only after I settled in did I notice that there was just a single sister between myself and the “no black people” sister. I thought to myself, alhamdulillah, at least I don’t have to pray next to her. Astagfirullah.
After the iqamah, a gap appeared in the line in front of us, and the in-between sister quickly moved up to fill in the gap. My heart lurched. Am I going to have to move over and pray next to this “no black people” sister or is she going to move over? Maybe, I should just step out of line and pretend I need to pull up my socks or straighten my hijab or something, anything really. But no, it’s Ramadan, you just completed your fast, and you’re Muslim. Repel evil with that which is better. Okay. Maybe after the first two rakah I can move. Stop. Allahu Akbar…
Muslim Apple making dua in each sajdah, “Our Lord, forgive us and our brothers who preceded us in faith and do not put any rancour in our hearts towards those who believe. Our Lord, You are the All-Gentle, Most Merciful. [Al Hashr 59/10] Still feeling something in my heart against this “no black people” sister after the first two rakah. Hashr 59/10 over and over again.
During itikaf, I talk to some sisters about it. No names, just the situation. Good advice but still feeling something negative in my heart.
Eid salaah and the Imam is speaking about forgiveness and making excuses for people and good akhlaaq and Abu Bakr and the story of ifk and wouldn’t you love for Allah to forgive you. Okay, the heart softens. Yes, I want Allah to forgive me. We pray the 2 rakah and afterward I look for the sister but can’t find her. I don’t feel any rancour in my heart.
Fast forward a couple of years and the sister formerly known as nbp needs an extended favor from Muslim Apple. I do it, no problem. I remember the comment from before but I don’t mention it.
Over the next few months the sister and I begin working on projects together and then we both go on separate trips and don’t see each other for months. When we meet again, there are genuine warm salaams exchanged and to my surprise the biggest and longest bear hug, I’ve had in years. Dua answered, there is no rancour at all, only love. Alhamdulillah.
Side Note: In the stories narrated about Bilal radiyAllahu anhu, we never hear his response to racial provocations.
In the story of the adhaan, a man said, “Could not Muhammad [sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam] find anyone else besides this black crow to call out the adhaan”? Or when Abu Dharr and Bilal were arguing and Abu Dharr tried to insult Bilal radiyAllahu anhu by saying he was the son of a black woman.
While the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam and others spoke up and defended Bilal, I have never read anything that mentions a response by Bilal himself. I suppose there is a wisdom in that as well.