بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
“The similitude of believers in regard to mutual love, affection, fellow-feeling is that of one body; when any limb of it aches, the whole body aches, because of sleeplessness and fever” (Muslim).
The Muslim Student Association (MSA) and organizations like it have played a prominent role in the development of Muslim intellectuals, practitioners, and community leaders in North America. However, for decades, Black Muslim Students have noted and expressed feelings of marginalization within the safe spaces that MSAs are supposed to provide for all Muslim students. These reflect the marginalization that occurs more broadly in multi-racial Muslims spaces irrespective of age and background. This past weekend, the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC) launched a hashtag called #BlackInMSA in an effort to amplify the voices of those who have been affected.
MuslimARC is a racial justice education organization by and for Muslims. We see education as a garrison to address concerns of intra-Muslim racism. We see multiple opportunities now for MSAs to immediately begin to change the unhealthy and un-Islamic environments found within their spaces and to begin to foster genuine brotherhood and sisterhood on campus. We are here as a resource for MSAs and to highlight best practices and examples from around the country as to how MSAs can improve.
We understand that MSA leaders are often under multiple stressors. We remind them here: Islamophobia is but a branch on the tree of racism. To allow racism to flourish in a Muslim student organization is severely damaging to us politically, socially, and most importantly, spiritually. It is in all of our best interests for dunya and mandatory for our akhirah to seek to rectify the racism we find in our communities.
Through the hashtag, it became clear that Arab/South Asian millennials perpetuate marginalization with the idea that racism, bigotry, and caste are a thing of the past within their community. After receiving an outpouring of comments regarding the erasure of Black Muslim students within the broad framework of MSAs, we have provided a brief list of recommendations in the hopes that we can continue to work to develop solidarity under the banner of Islam and dignity.
- For umbrella Muslim youth organizations like MSA National and its chapters: compile demographics of the leadership of MSA chapters and publish the findings for transparency.
- Increase non-Arab/South Asian leadership by 30% by 2017
- Organize Black-led panels and open forums to discuss racial and ethnic inclusivity at MSAs. MSAs that are unfamiliar with racism in the Muslim community should begin by hosting discussion after watching panels from MuslimARC’s Heritage Month series (available on YouTube). MSAs that do not have diversity within their organization should not attempt to host events without guidance. We ask that you seek a consultation with MuslimARC before moving to host a problematic event.
- Publish a statement of solidarity with the Student Black Out movement taking place now in America. Research and demonstrate awareness and support for what is happening and why. Examples include statements issued by MSA West, the Mizzou Muslim student organization, and the Muslim student organization at Wellesley College.
- Increase events and activities centered around Black Muslim narratives and issues by 20% by 2017
- Increase fundraising drives and awareness campaigns for relief efforts in the African Diaspora by 20% by 2017
- Implement cultural sensitivity and anti-racism training classes for MSA leaders and members. Trainings are available through MuslimARC.
- Curate and enact cultural codes of conduct that specify zero tolerance for the use of racial slurs and jokes, and call for genuine and representative diversity. No one should ever be using the N-word in a Muslim space on campus.
- Highlight prominent Black Muslim history and historical figures – including but focusing on individuals other than Bilal (RA) and Malcolm X – in and out of February and Black History Month
- Ask the Black student associations on campus how you can amplify and support their leadership in the months to come.
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, said,
“A Muslim is a brother of (another) Muslim, he neither wrongs him nor does hand him over to one who does him wrong. If anyone fulfils his brother’s needs, Allah will fulfil his needs; if one relieves a Muslim of his troubles, Allah will relieve his troubles on the Day of Resurrection…” [Bukhari and Muslim].
Today the Muslim world finds itself in another era of social unrest and confusion. This is an overwhelming opportunity to advance the human experience. It is uncertain what generations to come will perceive of this time. As Muslims, however, we must work to ensure that they are not met with the dogma and ignorance of their predecessors.