The recent Eid ul Fitr celebrations were tarnished for some of the black Muslim community in the UK due to inflammatory comments made by a well known and respected speaker; Abu Ibraheem Hussnayn. His comments, when addressing a group of predominantly Asian youth in Birmingham, have since gone viral due to their offensive nature:
‘Brothers, we’re not black; let’s stop talking like we’re black! Let’s talk in a decent way, with decent manners.’
He has since endeavoured to apologise for making such comments; however, his repeated efforts to contextualise and subsequently criticise an element among the Black Muslim population for having a ‘victim mentality’ have diminished this attempt:
‘…To claim I’m racist off the back of that tiny clip with no context is frankly pathetic. In fact, the brother who spoke before me was black and so was the one who came after me!! People should stop being so oversensitive and jumping to absurd conclusions.’
In another Facebook posting, after approximately 4 minutes he states:
‘…I don’t belittle the struggling this community has gone through and the racism that you have faced but at the same time, I also reject this victim mentality that some of our brothers and sisters have, as though they are the only ones who face racism and as if racism is only for them…’
While the intimations behind these particular comments are serious and far-reaching, the purpose of this article is not to scapegoat Abu Ibraheem. Instead, it is necessary to examine the pervasiveness of such racist beliefs among predominantly Asian communities in Britain today.
The title of this article is intentionally provocative and will undoubtedly cause offence due to its intimation that Asian communities – particularly Muslim ones – have a problem with grooming gangs. This perception is an inaccurate one, yet it feeds into a post-Brexit xenophobia that is further exacerbated from within the wider Muslim community itself:
‘A think tank has claimed that 84 per cent of people convicted of child grooming-gang offences since 2005 were Asian.
In a new study, Quilliam says its researchers discovered differences in the way paedophiles from different backgrounds operated.
It said white offenders often acted alone, while child abusers from Asian backgrounds were more likely to work in so-called grooming gangs.’
If black or other non-Asian Muslim communities shared such sentiments and articulated them in a manner that highlighted empathy with a significant and vocal minority of non-Muslims in the UK, there would be indignation and uproar from the largest section of Muslims in Britain – South Asians – and understandably so. In light of this observation, it is equally unacceptable for misperceptions such as those conveyed by Abu Ibraheem to continue about black people – Muslim and non-Muslim alike. The furor over his comments and ensuing remarks in support of and against him illustrate how sensitive the issue of racism continues to be among Muslim communities – particularly as it relates to black Muslims. Kate Zebiri referred to research that underscores the extent of racism directed toward them:
‘If white converts find themselves marginalised, things tend to be worse for black converts, with many complaining of racist attitudes, particularly on the part of the older generations of the Asian community. Al-Qwidi found that white converts were more accepted than black converts by the Asian community both as people and as Muslims, which is to some extent a reflection of Asian attitudes towards black people in British society generally….’
Al-Qwidi’s research also found that some of her interviewees:
‘…had experienced ‘distressing rebuttals’ and found themselves unwelcome in Asian mosques…’
A black convert who had found it difficult enlisting support for a newly established Islamic charity remarked that:
‘…white people are actually the least racist I’ve met and people of colour are the ones who have amazing amounts of racism in them… Asians definitely…’
This is a sentiment that many black Muslims share. In fact, I would go so far to state the racism experienced from Asian Muslims is worse in toxicity when compared to the type faced from the wider non-Muslim society – and that is a damning indictment on the former.
Urban Culture and its pervading influence among youth: The New Black
In 2017, I contributed a chapter to an exciting new publication that focused on British Muslim youth.The chapter was entitled, Urban young Muslims: Cross cultural influence in the face of religious marginalisation and stigmatisation. I examined some of the societal challenges facing young black Muslims and their resulting resilience – as well as latent talent – despite the odds stacked heavily against them. One particular section highlighted the extent of their pervading influence insofar as popular street vernacular was concerned. After noting historian, David Starkey’s equally racist outburst; namely, that ‘whites have become blacks,’ I observed:
‘Beneath the surface of such polarising statements is the long established fact that black culture – the positive and not so positive aspects of it – has actually shaped, dominated and influenced youth cultural landscapes across the UK for decades. Youth vernacular has now become ethnically indistinguishable among many people due, predominantly, to the influence of black culture…’
I also pointed to the fact that:
‘It has also influenced Asian youth as can be witnessed when observing the cultural ‘fusion’ between them and British black Muslims.’
A final observation that is pertinent to the current discourse was that:
‘Despite the apparent influence and success of black culture to permeate many aspects of youth and street culture, black Muslims remain – to some degree – marginalised, especially those coming from urban backgrounds.’
Black Muslims & the ‘double – whammy’ effect
Abu Ibraheem rejects the victim mentality of some black Muslims as well as the assumption that racism is ‘only for them.’ If we examine these comments and juxtapose them with black external (non-Muslim) and internal (fellow Muslim) experiences of racism, it is easy to discern that different types and degrees of racism exist against black Muslims in particular, and black people in general. Evidence regarding the inherent racism that exists among sections of Asian communities has already been presented above. Suffice it to refer to the continuing institutionalised racism in the UK. Afua Hirsch’s observation in this regard, is pertinent:
‘Many have felt the cold glass surface blocking off the pinnacle of their careers or professions in the UK because of their brown skin, yet in Africa, a British accent and education only accelerates their chances. And all the while correcting a historical injustice in the process. There is almost no better evidence of the pernicious effect of subtle British racism than the thousands of people born and raised in Britain who leave in search of something that truly feels like theirs.’
The variations and levels of racism experienced by black Muslims should not therefore be disregarded and considered insignificant. The Asian experience of racism, equated primarily to their faith, is incomparable to the overall black experience – Muslim and non-Muslim alike. Islamophobia affects Muslims from all ethnicities – including black Muslims. It is not exclusive to Asian communities alone. It is not, therefore, ‘only for them’ – to coin a phrase.
The disease of racism among Muslim communities is an issue that can only be properly addressed through comprehensive socio-religious and socio-educational programmes – beginning in the home. It is clear from social media postings that racist predispositions have been transferred to the younger generations. It is ugly and in contrast to the foundation Islam is built upon. During Ramadan, every Muslim will have either recited or listened to the Quranic verse proclaiming:
‘O Mankind, indeed We [Allah] have created you from male and female, and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most God-fearing [and righteous]…’
Perhaps reflection upon this verse and the prevailing message of Islam, which is in contrast to all forms of racism, are the initial steps toward finally addressing a long existing disease plaguing Muslim communities today. At the same time, while campaigning against Islamophobia, we would do well to embark on a similar endeavour to remove racism among our own communities.
@nabzabdel86https://www.instagram.com/p/BkFxmAchXpr/?utm_source=ig_share_sheet&igshid=1wxaossmcjjgw&r=wa1 (Link last accessed on 18thJune 2018).
Abu Ibraheem: ‘Clarification and Apology,’ FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/abuibraheemhh/posts/2022695394430853/ (Link last accessed on 19thJune 2018).
Barnes, T: ‘British-Pakistani researchers say 84% of grooming gang members are Asian: ‘It’s very important we talk about it,’ The Independent, 10thDecember 2017: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/quilliam-grooming-gangs-report-asian-abuse-rotherham-rochdale-newcastle-a8101941.html
Zebiri, K: ‘British Muslim Converts: Choosing Alternative Lives,’ One World, 2008, p.65
Hamid, S: ‘Young British Muslims: Between Rhetoric and Realities,’ Routledge, 2017.
Quinn, B: ‘David Starkey claims ‘the whites have become black,’ The Guardian, 13thAugust 2011: https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/aug/13/david-starkey-claims-whites-black
Hamid, S: ‘Young British Muslims: Between Rhetoric and Realities,’ Routledge, 2017, p. 61
Hirsch, A: ‘BRIT(ISH): On Race, Identity and Belonging,’ Vintage, 2018: Kindle Location 3177
Important Note: The usage of the term ‘We’ is an attempt to translate the meaning of the Arabic which denotes God’s Majesty and should not be misunderstood to refer to any polytheistic concept that is contrary to Islam.
The Quran, Chapter: ‘The Private Rooms [Al-Hujurat]; 49, verse 13,’ Saheeh International, Riyadh