Growing up as a southern black girl, my knowledge of a Muslim was the Nation of Islam, to the extent of “the black man” this and “the white man” that. I recall images of distinguished looking men of color in suits and bow ties selling bean pies or newspapers; always with determined facial expressions. I recognized Louis Farrakhan as their leader, a man who spouted quotes of “white devils” and black empowerment; Elijah Muhammad being a distant whisper in my mind. In school I read the required text book paragraph about Malcolm X and what I understood to be his limited influence on African American history. I mean, if he’d really made an impact, wouldn’t he have a celebratory day like Martin? That was my thought process.
I didn’t fear Muslims. I didn’t know Muslims. I DIDN’T KNOW A MUSLIM.
Being raised in one of the “Bible Belt” states left little room to learn more about any religion other than Christianity or one of it’s derivatives. The exception to the rule was being born into a family which had opposed the traditional southern religious heritage or having that one person in your family who had strayed from the Christian religious path; the black sheep if you will. I had neither. Unbeknownst to me there was a mosque within four miles of my childhood home with significant historical relevance. Situated in what I thought was an abandoned or at the very least a scarcely consumed commercial plaza, I would ride through the parking lot with my family on many occasions, unaware of what it represented.
As I think back I would say the presence of the black Muslim in society was portrayed as an almost comical character as I watched those of color, whether comedians in stand-up or actors in movies, ridicule and distort my perception of what they represented. Television was my teacher and it taught me that Muslims were of no consequence. And Arabs? Please. I didn’t even realize their were Arab Muslims. Ironically, the only depiction of a Muslim that I recall which intrigued me was Malcolm in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X. The same Malcolm X that I had scarcely read about in school. I was only 12 years old when the film was released so one might argue that I was enamored with Denzel Washington, a handsome, strong, and charismatic man portraying Malcolm Little on the big screen. Regardless, it was not simply Denzel Washington, it was who he represented that shined. Too young to want to delve further into this alternative depiction of history it became a deposit in my memory bank; a withdrawal I would not make until much later.
Fast forward twenty years or more and here I am……a Muslim. An American Muslim. The term to some may be an oxymoron, but for me and over 1.5 billion Muslims in the world it is a daily reality. Just as I was ignorant there are millions who are also clueless as to what Islam represents and what a true Muslim believes, practices, and works to achieve. Now of course this information can be found on the internet, in books, and within various periodicals but it is my duty as a Muslim to make our message known.
I am not here to convert or judge (only Allah has the authority to do that). Nor am I here to preach. My sole purpose is to make Islam clear for others by sharing my thoughts, my experiences, and my world. Truthfully that is a bit scary for me because I am, by all accounts, one who would prefer to sit in the crowd rather than perform center stage. You could say this blog allows me to do both while simultaneously providing a voice for the black American Muslim perspective.
Regardless of your nationality or religious preference I welcome you and invite you to follow me as I strive to find a balance between the two aspects of my life that make me who I am.