As a ‘Black’ Muslim, I am often caught between being ‘Black’ and being a ‘Muslim’. I grew up having to navigate between the different groups I belonged to and at times, different parts of my identities seem estranged from each other.
The reality is, the ideal of a ‘colour blind’ Muslim community does not exist even though Islam prohibits racism. As a parent myself, I now understand and appreciate why my parents were determined for my siblings and I to learn about our heritage, culture and encouraged us to be proud of our skin colour. Having a sense of pride in who I was boosted my self-esteem and gave me the confidence I needed to overcome the negative stereotypes associated with being Black.
Among some Muslims, I am told that Islam is my only authentic identity and that any other identity is insignificant. Is religious identity the only thing that shapes who we truly are? Islam to me is the foundation of my moral conduct and the guiding principles I live by. However, the experience of Black Muslim parents like myself is that the racial group our children belong to are often emphasised and belittled. The growing cases of Black Muslim children being racially discriminated against at Islamic schools and in some Muslim communities are disturbing, while those in authority turn a blind eye. Racism has become an accepted culture in many Middle Eastern countries, to the extent that the oppression of people with darker skin tones are normalised.
Should we as parents also continue to accept our children being treated as second-class citizens under the banner “that’s just the way things are”?
How can we teach our children that prejudices based on skin colour is unacceptable, when we are guilty of encouraging it or do nothing to combat it?
Just like I was encouraged to be proud of my heritage and not to feel inferior because of my skin colour, can I successfully instil such confidence in my children who are third generation immigrants? Do I teach them about Black history, Islamic history or both? Should we speak Arabic or our ethnic language at home? I fear that I may neglect one identity over the other. As parents, we may not have the power to change the way others think, but we can build our children’s self-esteem, confidence and positive self-image to stop them seeking validation from those who reject them. They are worthy as Muslims in the sight of their creator regardless of how they may be perceived.