“WE DON’T NEED YOUR INVITATION AND REJECT YOUR UN-ISLAMIC METHODOLOGY”
This past Friday, January 1st, global news services widely broadcasted the latest video manufactured by Al-Shabaab, the Somalian El-Qaeda affiliate. Because of the use of the image and words of presidential candidate Donald Trump, much of the attention given to that video focused on him.
However in a manner all too typical of its treatment of Muslim Americans of African descent Since September 11, 2001, American media ignored the main focus of the video’s intent, which appeared to be to embarrass the United States government by highlighting the contradictions of its own society, while simultaneously inviting Americans of African descent to convert to Islam and join the cause of violent extremists.
Towards that end, the Al-Shabaab video utilized the 50 year-old increasingly relevant words and image of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (popularly known as Malcolm X) to illuminate its indictment of American contradictions. To update their significance, images from current news events highlighting injustice towards African Americans were used, ranging from the prison industrial complex to nation-wide protests against police killings. What is Al-Shabaab’s solution to racial injustice in the U.S.? It is conversion to Islam and joining the ranks of such violent extremists. – As if there is no anti-Black racism in the Arab Muslim world.
Al-Shabaab’s video was interspersed with clips from a speech by the deceased, controversial figure Anwar Al-Awlaki, warning “Muslims of the West” that they are destined for oppression as a religious minority in the lands where they reside. His solution? Join the ranks of Muslim violent extremists and what they (misleadingly) refer to as a “jihad”.
Further, the video included a You-tube clip from one of this writer’s Social Justice-centered sermons. As an imam who is a Muslim American of African descent with a track record of community, interfaith, and social justice work and activism spanning decades, I am part of a nationwide net-work of Black American Muslim grassroots leaders, male and female. We are rooted in the social, political, and economic circumstances of the “two Americas”. As such, we live a reality that exposes what Malcolm X called “the hypocrisy of Democracy”.
Nonetheless, African American Muslim leaders unanimously and openly reject calls to violent extremism by those who “use the good name of God to shield their own dirty religion”, regardless of their faith. As one of America’s oldest historic African American Sunni Muslim mosques, The Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood has asserted since 1967 that political forces abroad have for decades consistently sought unsuccessfully to manipulate and mis-use Black American Muslims as a political arm.
In November of 2008 following the election of Barack Obama as America’s 44th president, El-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri denounced him in a video after publicly praising El-Hajj Malik/Malcolm X, with a photograph of the slain leader praying in the background. African American Muslim leaders rejected Zawahiri’s statements. “He doesn’t speak for us”, they said. “And neither does anyone else. We speak for ourselves.”
Now eight years later the same foreign elements are still trying. Their appeals to Black Americans are disingenuous and reveal a lack of knowledge of who we are as Muslims.
We don’t need Muslims abroad to invite us to accept Islam as a religious way of life. Every study that has ever been done of the American Muslim population has concluded that fully one-third of us are Black Americans. The author and African diasporan researcher Sylvianne Diouf asserts that the U.S. is the only western country with an indigenous Muslim population of African descent. We have clearly documented roots in America that can be traced back to before the American nation–state was created. We have been present as soldiers in every war that America has fought including the Civil War.
Our participation as Muslims in the freedom struggle of African Americans did not begin with Brother Malcolm X, nor end with him. Black American Muslims were struggling for freedom for our people and ourselves both before the modern civil and human rights movements, and during them. We continue to do so.
Culturally, as any northern urban public school teacher knows, seemingly every third one of us has a Muslim name whether we are Muslim are not (e.g. Kareem, Hakeem, Aisha, Rasheedah, Shabazz, not to mention Mecca and Madina, etc.), and this too is a unique feature of African Americans. Some of the greatest American athletes (Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, etc.) are Black men, and Muslim. And some of this generation’s emerging female athletes (like fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad) are Black American Muslim women, who visibly can be identified as such.
The only two Muslim members of the American Congress are African Americans (Keith Ellison, who took his oath of office with his hand on a Qur’an, and Andre Carson). They perfectly compliment Muslim judges, mayors, and other public officials in municipalities throughout the country. Islam’s influence is inseparable from American hip-hop, which in turn has a global impact. Muslim African Americans far outnumber other non-immigrant traditional American ethnic groups, in their conversion to Islam. We don’t need anyone telling us to accept Islam. We’re doing fine on our own, thank you.
Insofar as El-Hajj Malik /Malcolm X is concerned, we who live the reality of what it means to be both Black and Muslim in America (as opposed to just reading about it), know what he taught and practiced, and it was not violence. He was a man of integrity who stood for justice, human rights, and the same principle of self-defense recognized in international law. He would have rejected and we reject, all acts of political extremism that exceed the boundaries of Islamic law, by taking the lives of innocent, non-combatant civilians, anywhere in the world.
So we say to all who would seek to manipulate Muslim African Americans, or others against us, that we know our full history in America and understand the geo-political complexities of life in the modern world. As one Black American imam once declared, “Problems with the West? We are the West.” Our critique against injustice is universal to us as humans, global as Muslims, and particular as Americans. It is based upon our own agenda and interest as a Muslim people in America, and we say to ALL Muslim violent extremists who would exploit the plight and struggle of our people in America, “ We don’t need your invitation to accept Islam as a way of life. We reject your beliefs and methodology as un-Islamic, and we will not be cannon fodder for you. We have been engaged in our own struggle for freedom, justice, and equality for over 400 years, and that struggle continues”.
Imam Al-Hajj Talib ‘Abdur-Rashid is the imam of The Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood, a historic African American Sunni Muslim mosque located in Harlem, New York City. He is the former president of the Islamic Leadership Council of Metropolitan New York, and the current Vice-President of The Muslim Alliance in North America