By Margari Hill
The standard meaning of allies in English entails individuals or groups joining together for mutual support.
The terms of those agreements may shift depending on the cause. Often, people will label themselves as allies or advocates, act in solidarity or build coalitions for a mutual cause. There are social justice activists, scholars, and bloggers who have critiqued the use of ally.
However, the reality is that all social justice projects entails some type of collaboration with various groups with differing and sometimes conflicting interests.
One of the greatest challenges to Muslims addressing Islamophobia is that we are divided as a community. Even some of the approaches to combat Islamophobia has marginalized Black American Muslims. This has led to a dangerous tendency to deflect blame or culpability on either the victim of anti-Black racism or assign it to the system of white supremacy. My hope is that we go beyond blame or complicity, by focusing on our own tradition which emphasizes responsibility.
As Muslims, we are each others’ allies, as Allah subhana wa ta’ala says:
The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those – Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.
Surah Al-Tawbah 9:71 Sahih International
The Arabic word used for wali here, “awliya” is plural for “wali.” Other translations say friends, but most tafasir (pl. for tafsir) would state that wali is much deeper than just friendship. Wali comes from the word al-Wilayah, meaning the willingness to take responsibility, manage, to be the authority, or administer something. While there are other words for ally in the Arabic language, the above verse reflects the corresponding Islamic concept of ally. It has profound meaning, both spiritually and sociologically.
It is profound spiritually, because it deals with our eternal state, our souls. The meaning of ally is profound sociologically because the concept of ally developed before the development of the state, when the only social support was either your patron or your kinship ties. Children and orphans, as individuals who are not in the position to advocate for themselves and defend themselves, need walis. Likewise, people from weaker clans depended upon the advocacy and protection of more powerful clans. People used their influence to help and advocate for others, such as a powerful patron of a newly freedman.
The Islamic concept of wali is more than an advocate. This relationship is a trust from Allah. This is the basis of our multi-ethnic alliances in MuslimARC, the basis of our work in challenging racism within the Muslim community. At the same time, drawing from the Islamic concept of wali, protecting friend and ally, we must consider our role as allies in anti-racism.
We must support the disenfranchised, and intervene and speak on behalf of those who need our support.
What type of behavior does a good ally engage in?
Sincerity in allyship entails a lot of self evaluation, stumbling, and finding new approaches. As Muslims doing this anti-racism work, we must be careful to check our intentions and to not do this work in order to inflate our own self importance. We must be open to be humbled, ask for forgiveness, and give it readily. We must speak truth and be honest with ourselves. Anti-racism work is about putting knowledge into practice and transforming our lives so that we can reshape our world. So with that in mind, let us blend the wisdom of both Western social justice and anti-racism work and Islamic traditions so that our faith can be a positive force for change in our communities.