There is countless, irrefutable evidence that Black people, many of them, Muslims, trying to migrate to Europe through Libya are being captured, tortured and sold into slavery by criminal gangs who also happen to be of the Muslim faith. When the news first broke, I wrote extensively about it on Facebook. In one of my articles, I argued that this may be happening due to the fall of the Gaddafi regime, which had left the country lawless. Some African countries have managed to return some of their citizens home and various survivors have narrated their ordeal – their stories are heart-breaking and enough to make you cry even if your heart was made of stone.
Recent news coming out of Libya indicates that this evil is still ongoing. Many Black Africans are still being captured and enslaved in the North African country. Again, I understand that the absence of Gaddafi may have created the space for such an atrocity to carry on unchecked. However, it is deeply troubling that, in 2019, Muslims kidnapping and enslaving other Muslims is not a huge scandal in the Muslim world. Imams are not talking about it in masajid (as far I am aware), and there isn’t an outcry from the general Muslim population for this evil to stop – you know, like the type of zeal and passion we demonstrate for Palestine or Syria.
Forget that Muslims are also among the victims, for a minute. The fact that Muslims are targeting people – Muslims and non-Muslims alike because of the colour of their skin – and then selling them into slavery is enough to be the mother of all scandals around the Muslim majority world. But it isn’t, and we all know why.
Are we really ‘one Ummah’?
As a West African Muslim, I find this very disturbing, I have to admit. Like most Muslims, I love my brothers and sisters in Islam. Their pains are my pain, and their joys are mine also. I read about the golden age of Islam and wish for a return to something similar; where Muslims looked out for one another. Where we considered ourselves a family irrespective of language, ethnicity, race or tribe. I think of the concept of “One Ummah” and it fills me with joy. I hear non-Black Muslims talk about uniting the Ummah under one umbrella and it all sounds great…until I wake up to face the reality of racism, nationalism and indifference to Black suffering, and then I realise how far we actually are from achieving anything remotely close to being a united Ummah.
Sometimes, I ask myself, “what if we finally have our ‘One Ummah?’” Will Black people ever be welcomed into that space? Will we ever be treated as equal citizens, or will we be expected to know our place as it is currently being done in many of our masajid, even here in the UK?
What if we have our “One Ummah?” Will I be free to roam the Muslim world as a Black person? Can I freely visit the hills of Afghanistan? Will I be able to visit the Middle East or India, Pakistan or Bangladesh, and get treated like an actual brother – free of pretence and unnecessary patronisations? Yes, I know Bilal (RA) was Black! Next line, please.
The concept of “One Ummah” is great. It should be the dream and aspiration of every Muslim. But for this to ever materialise, we need to, as a matter of urgency, begin to deal with the very difficult issue of anti-black racism within our communities. The non-Black Muslim communities need to recognise and get acquainted with the history, contributions and relevance of West Africa to Islam.
Danger of Black Muslims moving away from Islamic unity
A genuine hand of brotherhood needs to be extended to that part of the world, and just like Syria, Palestine and Kashmir, the pains of the African Muslims should also be the pains of the entire Muslim world. For I fear that if nothing changes, several Black Muslims will begin to take a cue and start looking inwards to organise around race and ethnicity as opposed to organising around Islam, thereby, furthering the division of an already fragmented Ummah. Such a step might seem blameworthy, but would you have any moral justification to accuse anyone of dividing the Ummah? When Gaza needs help, we rally round and provide whatever help we can. Alhamdulillah! When Syria or Yemen is in trouble, we rally round and send containers filled with food and blankets. Alhamdulillah! But when it’s time for Nigeria, Gambia or Mali, pin drop silence. Ethnic cleansing of Muslims is taking place in the CAR.
Let me ask you this, when did your masjid last send food or blankets to Boko Haram victims in Northern Nigeria? When did you last donate money to orphans in Gambia or the Central African Republic? Possibly, never. Can you now understand why increasing number of Black Muslims in the diaspora might want to start organising and doing their own thing?
We talk about unity, and in an ideal Islamic world, who doesn’t want unity? But have you ever wondered how I’m going to explain the ongoing shame in Libya to my Black Muslim children? How do I explain to them that the men enslaving Black Muslims in Libya are supposed to be their brothers in Islam? How am I also expected to explain the silence and indifference of the Muslim majority world towards the sufferings of Black Muslims? It’s a difficult task, and it will continue to worsen if non-black Muslims continue to ignore the elephant in the room.
This article first appeared on 5thApril 2019 on 5Pillars website and permission was obtained by the author to reproduce it: https://5pillarsuk.com/2019/04/05/can-we-really-speak-of-unity-and-ummah-without-addressing-anti-black-racism/