Black Muslim Voices Missing in Discussion of New York City Muslim Center

Blackvoicenews has an excellent take on the anti-Muslim furor that our mostly white “leaders” in the political and media spheres have created–and mostly out of their white racial framing of Middle Eastern Muslim Americans. It is significant that a group that was generally ignored outside of a few urban areas before 9/11 is now the new target or scapegoat for certain U.S. ills.

As one African American Muslim leader noted this is not only about religious intolerance, but also about (white) racism:

“We have to be able to decode what’s happening and realize that this is religious intolerance on one hand, and it’s [also] good ol’ red-blooded American racial and ethnic bias on the other hand,” said Imam Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid, sitting in his office at the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood Inc. in Harlem.

National polls indicate only a quarter of Americans support of the right of some Americans to construct a Muslim center near the 9/11 site–and presumably, by implication, the first amendment’s promise (extended by the 14th amendment) of (government) noninterference in the “free exercise” of religion in the U.S. There is much ignorance in the general population about the Middle East, Muslims, and the issues around the Muslim center in New York City, for example:

Many in the mainstream media have failed to acknowledge that the proposed building will not simply serve as a mosque but as a fully equipped community center with a swimming pool, culinary school, art studios and other features. Furthermore, another mosque, the Manhattan Mosque, stands only five blocks northeast from the site of Ground Zero; Muslims have been worshiping at this location since a year prior to the World Trade Center’s construction.

So, Muslims have been worshiping there, already, for four decades. I suppose they will have to move with this new wave of US anti-Muslim hysteria? There is yet another ignorance and slighting, as Abdur-Rashid points out, in the local and national discussion—the absence of Black Muslims:

“The first thing we need to do is decode some of the language,” said Abdur-Rashid. “The first language that has to be decoded is “Americans.” That really means “white Americans.” That’s who’s uptight about this. It’s opposition that’s occurring in different parts of the country in reaction to the construction of mosques. It’s not just Park 51 in Lower Manhattan. … It’s in different parts of the country.”

African Americans were for decades the largest Muslim group (think about Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Kareem-Abdul Jabbar) in the United States, and they are now the second largest group. Why aren’t they brought in as experts and commentators in the mainstream media dealing with these Muslim issues? It seems just white racist thinking and framing that results in the white-controlled media not bringing themselves to have experienced African American Muslims discussing these current anti-Muslim issues, most especially in New York City, long the home of large Black Muslim groups. (For solid and readable research on Muslim Americans, see here and here.)

Russell Simmons, a hip-hop entrepreneur who chairs the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding is quoted in the article:

“I’m disappointed in everyone, Harry Reid and the rest of the Democrats,” said Simmons. “I’m shocked at the media. There’s ignorance on all sides. Twenty-three percent of this world’s population is Muslim. They’re a peace-loving people. What we’re doing is creating more tension.”

As he points out, “The Muslims” did not attack the US, and this often vicious, highly politicized anti-Mosque “crusade” (indeed, it is like a “crusade”) will only alienate yet again much of the world’s population. Not to mention, it violates the letter or spirit of our own Bill of Rights traditions. Can we afford that as a nation?


  1. No1KState

    I noticed the absense of a discussion of Islam among African Americans. But, as you say, this being racial as well as religious, black Muslims are “protected” by the fact that unless they’re wearing a haj’b or other dress, they’re virtually indistinguishable from your everyday black pentacostal. There’s already the tea bags and their implicit anti-black racism. There’s Arizona and all the anti-immigrant furor and anti-Latina/o racism. Throw in the mosque and rumors that Pres Obama is a muslim and there’s your anti-Arab/Persian/Indian/Indonesian bias. They pretty much have all the basic racial-others covered. There’s really no need to address black muslims, and in fact, pointing out that there’ve been mosques in the US for several decades and muslims since slavery is counter-productive to the aims of white supremacy.

    Besides, when it comes to politics within the Christian community, blacks are pretty much ignored – unless of course we can serve as a scapegoat for the passing of anti-LGBT legislation. There’s no reason to expect things to be different. If the construction worker the mob turned on had been a few shades darker, he probably would’ve walked by unnoticed.

    As for black Muslims and the black community at large, I guess we have to decide which is worse: the racism of being invisible or enduring the mob wrath once we’re “discovered.”

  2. Joe

    Good points, No1, the racist system gets you coming and going. A striking point in the article is that Muslim leaders and experts among African Americans, who know much about Muslims and America, at totally ignored as commentators and ‘pundits’ for these mosque stories.

  3. No1KState

    the racist system gets you coming and going

    This is off topic. As I think more about it, whites have complained about the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” nature of political correctness. Ie, adopt a black child and you’re condescending; but choose instead a white child over a black child and you’re being biased and contemptuous.

    But racism itself is “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” so of course, the response would be the same.

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