Obama’s Blackness, The Convert’s Muslimness Part 2

I’m Muslim, yet I find the incessant attention paid to the Palestinian conflict by Muslims off all stripes particularly converts to be overbearing and the current political stalemate over there has turned me off that conflict. There are horrible situations everywhere in the world, many worse that those in Gaza and the West Bank.

It seems that for some converts, attention and emotion and talk of Palestine and identifying with the issues of Palestine becomes a litmus test for one’s Islam. If you are a true believer you should be at the marches, wearing protest clothing, support the evil of suicide bombing and terrorism, dislike like Jews who if you refer to as “yehud” garners bonus points.

To me, Palestine is just one of many conflicts in the world where there is great injustice and suffering, I hope and make dua that there will eventually be a more just and equitable solution, but I don’t hate Jews. I think oppression, injustice, terrorism, and anti-semitism are rank and vile and no one should be given a pass to get away with this kind of stuff.

I changed my birth name to a stereotypical Muslim sounding one because of the incessant questions and pressure of my new found, well-intentioned, and sometimes misinformed brothers and sisters in Islam. I changed it back and reasserted my birth name as a protest and rejection of the forced groupthink/identity politics of conversion. Islam is about understanding that there is one God, the Creator and Sustainer, and that we are to worship him alone, not about the gloss and window dressing of taking Arabicized names.

I wear hijab and jilbab because I believe in it not because others think that I should. I don’t buy into the whole niqab is better or more pious argument. I think a lot of sisters wear niqab for social status and because immodest brothers eyeball them. I support the right of sisters to wear whatever they want and not to be forced into something they do not believe in or find difficult, and to do so without fear, intimidation, or insults. I don’t look down on sisters that do not observe my level of covering and do not look up to those that cover more than I do.

When people ask me about how or why I converted to Islam, I sometimes detect unpleasant undertones which are implicit questions about my Islam and Muslimness. Did you have Muslim friends or a Muslim boyfriend, oh you are from Nigeria (as if all of Nigeria were Muslim) or they ask questions about my life before Islam to see if I led a wild and promiscuous life beforehand, don’t forget that I am black and you know how black people are…

I read and listen to diverse voices. I don’t mark my identity by laying claim to this label or that or in boycotting, bashing, and warning against this or that group of Muslims or Muslim speakers. Anytime someone tells me not to read something or tries to ban a work because they think we are too delicate to handle the issues presented, only increases my desire to find out about it for myself. Although I watched Submission, that film by Theo Van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi and it was simply garbage and a waste of time, certainly not worth murdering anyone over. Rushdie is a skilled writer, I disagree with his political and religious views, but some of his literature is amazing.

I hear from other brothers and sisters about this or that problem in the black American Muslim community and how we should be concerned about this or that issue yet so rarely do I see reflections of my experience in this community. I know there are more like me but we are quiet maybe afraid or tired of having our identities questioned. I am Muslim, I’m a black Muslim with the required caveat “not in the Nation of Islam”, and I no longer feel the need to justify or prove my Islam.

I’m black, dark enough not to be able to pass as anything else, and have been called nigger or any number of names, been followed around in stores, pulled over by police, questioned, and let go for no obvious reason, asked to be the spokesperson or teacher to my white classmates, teachers, colleagues, etc. because they have constructed lives for themselves in which people that look like me do not factor in any serious way, enough times, as if I can speak with any authority about the entirety and complexity of the black experience or African experience (from people who see Africa as a country and not a continent with a diversity that boggles the mind) not to have any illusions about race. Many whites I know, like to say that we have come a long way, and things are getting better with time, and yes, while there may be some truth in that, things are not all rosy and we still have a long way to go in America.

In sha Allah, in November, I will vote for Barack Obama (and hopefully for Hillary Clinton) not because he is black, not because he had some Muslims whatever their level of practice in his family or spent time in Indonesia, not because he went to elite universities and worked as a community activist in poor neighborhoods, not because he is “articulate” as so many whites like to say about blacks as if that is something unexpected, not because he claims to be a candidate of hope and change even though the Jeremiah Wright episode has shown him to be more of a conventional politician than anything else.

I’m going to vote for Obama in sha Allah not only because I don’t want to see a third Bush term with McCain but because he symbolizes a man, an American man of mixed background that has come to terms with himself, his race, his identity, his place in American society. He is not complaining about “the man”, recognizes and acknowledges the imperfections of our society without thinking that whites created AIDS to harm black people, and can serve a as a bridge more than any other candidate to help the country move forward in conversations about race.

Obama grew up as a minorty in several places, has successfully navigated the complex racial milieu in American society,  has gone from Barry to Barack, and can stand up and say that he is black without apologies or explanation. Black, is truly beautiful. Some people might say he lacks experience but he has time and again shown himself to be a consummate politician, one not likely to go around with false bravado and empty slogans, one more likely to try diplomacy over ill-planned warmongering and one who inspires me to work harder in my own life focused on my goals knowing that with the grace of Allah, all things are possible.

Barack is a politician that inspires me and he is running for president and he has a chance of winning, something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime.

From the Storehouse:

Obama’s Blackness, The Convert’s Muslimness Part 1

I’ve Reverted

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Author: Ify Okoye

Muslim woman, RN, & rebel with a cause.

9 thoughts on “Obama’s Blackness, The Convert’s Muslimness Part 2”

  1. Assalaamu alaicum

    Absolutely agree. I support Palestine whenever I can, but I wonder if some muslims believe that we should support more arab countries because there are more muslims in Palestine or Iraq than in Philippines, for example. Every person in need is worthy of our compassion and help, that says in the Holy Koran and that was the way of the Prophet Muhammad, Peace be upon him and his companions.

    Furthermore, if you don’t care at all about your neighbour, non-muslim, who has a problem… would you seriously care about people, muslim or not, thousand miles away? I don’t think so :S

  2. I am a black-American Muslim woman who was born and raised Muslim as well.

    And I like totally agree with this!

    I am so exhausted over Muslims infatuation with Palestine! There are seriously MORE issues than Palestine!

    And I totally do not even look up to anyone who may cover more than me. I believe what I believe and I have no regrets over it!

    And i definitly don’t blame whites for all of my problems.

    Tired of proving my Muslimness too just because I am American and a black one at that.

    salaam

  3. As Muslims we are taught that WE are brethren, so we should obviously have more concern for other Muslims than (non-Muslim) neighbors; as for Palestine, it has value to true Muslims because it is the locus of the third Holiest sites in Islam. But, as Allah says in Quran, mankind was “…created into Nations and Tribes, that they may know one another…” So I guess it is alright if you insist that “black(?) is beautiful”; it is just as ok for Arabs to insist that “arab is beautiful”, and for Pakistanis, Turks, Albanians, Indonesians, West Africans, Persians, and other Muslim nations as well.
    But you are not mandated to love Palestine, or even al-Quds; we do, however, so we can accept your lack of sympathy for our cause (Palestine, Iraq, al-Ahwaz, Azawad, etc.!), but you must then accept if we are (at most) luke-warm to YOUR concerns. The end result is that the ties which bind us will unravel. Remember who was the closest ally to the Zionist entity in Palestine (after the US!)? It was South Africa. And it was in the interests of both Arabs and “blacks” that we cooperated fully in opposition to them both (Ask Nelson Mandela!). As things transpired, S.A. has been re-made, but Zionism persists in Palestine. But I don’t remember ever hearing any Arab saying we should ignore the struggles in southern Africa… And by the way, it is patently impossible for an Arab, who is, by definition, a Semite, to be an “anti-semite” because s/he opposes the foreign Zionists whose (European) ancestors converted to Judaism! This logic would make all Protestants German, and all Catholics Latins; not to mention making American Buddhist converts East Asians! (and if you want to know about Zionism from an orthodox Jewish standpoint, visit the website of Netorei Karta}. Perhaps your biases are the result of some negative interaction you may have had with Arabs; I assure you, the pendulum swings both ways, and there are, unfortunately, some Arabs who have your negative attitude, but toward “blacks”, probably for reasons similar to your own. It remains to be seen which trend will ultimately prevail: cooperation or division. When you call our Arab youth in Palestine “terrorists” for dying to free their people, did you call the Africans terrorists also, who fought the US-supported apartheid regime? Your heart and sould are bound into American nationalism, and the Islam appears to be a veneer on your exoskeleton, in the typical manner of the American religion. But do as you please, we will not give up our efforts to free ALL of Palestine and ALL of Iraq!

  4. ould Trarza:

    My concern is for justice for all people, refuse to excuse injustice because it may seem to suit one’s own interests. Killing innocents is not Islamic no matter who does it and yes, I equate it to terrorism regardless of the race or organization or government or religion or situation.

    The term anti-semite like black or African American has well-known connotations so it is convenient but of course Arabs are semites as well.

    We hear endlessly about Palestine from the minbar and in the news media, when was the last time anyone made dua publicly for the Muslims in Burma or China or Darfur or, even though this may sound sacrilegious to some, for those in America?

    I’ve had enough of being bullied and denigrated by other Muslims (like yourself) to fit into to their definition of what is right or wrong Islamically based on their own specific socio-cultural interpretations, complexes, and idiosyncrasies.

  5. Palestine, not that I like to call it that it should be Bilad ash-Sham but anyways, should hold a special place in our hearts as Jerusalem = Dar-as-Salaam – is related in the hadith as one of the three sites that provide extra blessings for the believers (along with Mekkah and Medina). So please treat it as such! Nonetheless all Muslims deserve our attention in all of the “hot-spots” around the world as the Ummah is like a single body and when one part is sick the rest is sick as well. The simple (not in actuality simple, but in theory) solution to all of these problems is rule based upon the true Sharia, in other words the Khilafah. Please don’t reject the path of extremism only to support the path of the flightsy do nothings. Suicide bombings are not in accordance with the Shariah, but neither is letting the lands of the Muslims be under the rule of non-Muslims. Saladin did not sit back and say “Let’s negotiate with the Crusader Christians for a two-state solution” No! He rallied the Muslims into a more unified front and he made alliances, strategic moves, etc. until it was time to retake the Holy Lands. This is the correct path. On a different note, your situation as an African-American with certain “white” labeled characteristics is very similar to that of my own wife. I am actaully Caucasian myself but have a strong commitment to doing what is right and upholding proud “blackness” at the same time as that is what our (my own flesh and blood) children will be categorized as anyways. Seeing Color Purple does not make you black, watching BET does not make you black, having an unhealthy diet composed of chattel slavery derived foods does not make you black, being ignorant does not make you black. Having knowledge of self and of the origins of the black race and of the many ways in which people of African descent contributed to the advancement of civilization is more important than all of the “black” characteristics mentioned previously. As Muslims also important is the wonderful history and present (Africa is the only majority Muslim continent) regarding Islam and Africans. Of note here is, of course, the Sahabahs Bilal ibn Rabah and Usama ibn Zayd. Next generation scholars such as Dhul-Nun al-Misri, warrios like Tariq ibn Zayd, Yusuf ibn Tashfinn, later scholar/warriors Uthman ibn Fudiya, Ahmad Seku, and into the modern times al-Hajj Malik al-Shabazz whose greatness as a Sunni Muslim was unfortunately not realized in full due to his death at the hands of whatever kuffar took his life.

  6. Adil: I do not have a problem with people holding special esteem for certain places, my quarrel is that the issue of Palestine has become almost a litmus test for Muslims particularly amongst converts in a way that it should not be and is used by some Muslims to bully and question the emaan, Islam, and Muslimness of other Muslims.

    It is clear to me what makes someone black or African American, which is not based on superficial qualities.

    And I couldn’t agree with you more about having a healthy self-image not dictated by negative stereotypes and the importance of knowing not only your own social, ethnic, and religious history but also the history of those around you.

  7. I see where you are coming from. I think at this stage or point in life, I only believe in making du’aa for all muslims not just palestinians. And you know the reason why muslims are in trouble especially palestinians is because they dont follow islaam completely the way the should. So hence, as muslims we dont hate the jews. Rather our focus should be tell all muslims to start acting like muslims.

    the main reason why i care so much about Jerusalem is because I want it one day to be free for all muslims to go there and pray. As far as brothesr and sisters I care for all of them over the world. Darfur brothers and sisters are in a worse situation. May Allaah help them. and it hurts more when muslims hurt each other, subhanallaah, may Allaah save us from this type of test ever!

    Sister, you came towards islaam. Any muslim born and raised who has any sense would have a great respect for you because you searched and found islaam, hence automatically you were stronger than us born and raised muslims. Dont mind and overlook the dumb questions your muslim brothers and sisters might ask 🙂 dont think anything of it.

    May Allaah bless you and keep you strong in eemaan.

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