“It is a peculiar sensation, this double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” W E B Dubois
“But what of black women?… I most sincerely doubt if any other race of women could have brought its fineness up through so devilish a fire.” W E B Dubois
“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” El Hajj Malik al Shabazz
“We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience and patience creates unity.” El Hajj Malik al Shabazz
Two of the most powerful men of the twentieth century spoke truth to power every chance that they could. They had the foresight and wisdom to know that the destiny of the African American rested on our own ability to have control over our story. The above quotes are very relevant to the story today of the Muslims abroad and in the USA.
As a Muslim of African American descent and a woman, I relate totally to the above quotes. From them I have derived three points that resonate in today’s climate of fear mongering and hate towards Islam.
First we need to understand that at least 35% of those brought to this country as slaves were Muslim. Muslims were instrumental in the development of this country’s infrastructure and hence Islam played a vital role in the American landscape. African women were brought here enslaved, bearing the brunt of the brutality of a system that allowed her to be raped and physically tortured. Having her children, whom she bore with her legitimate husband, taken from her and sold into slavery certainly ripped from her the last vestige of family and worth. Then to be used as a sex object by a master who denied her existence as a human being placed her in a position which was worse than death. Dr. DuBois’ acknowledges that the strength needed to survive enslavement and to accomplish success in many fields is a testament to the endurance of the African American woman. Only with determination and hard work could she have broken through the barriers that were constructed to keep her in a servile position.
Secondly, we should not accept the definition of who we are through the eyes of others when we are more than capable to verbally express our concerns. The essence of a woman of color vibrates with a different reality. We want it to be known that we are not satisfied with how Islam is being portrayed and that our religion cannot be relegated to sensational headlines of deception. The history of Islam in America found African-American Muslim women on the front lines with African-American men standing up for truth and justice in the face of threats to life and liberty. During the turbulent 60s El Hajj Malik al-Shabazz, known as Malcolm X, spoke what people of color had been feeling since the abolition of slavery. Due to the surge in conversions to Islam worldwide, we knew then as we know now that those who control what is printed and aired on television and radio can and will place the blame for all of the chaos that is happening around the world on the Muslims, creating an atmosphere of hate and fear toward Islam. This attempt to turn Islam into an evil belief system has its roots in the religion’s history from its inception. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, fought verbally as well as physically against the enemies of Islam over 1400 years ago. The media has to abandon the misnomer, the Islamic State, which is used to defile Islam, and we the citizenry must voice our concern about those governments that deny human rights and in turn create human states that are full of anguish and frustration.
Thirdly Muslims are not vicious, blood thirsty murderers. Nor do Muslims have the authority to force conversion to Islam on anyone. Terrorism is anti-Islam. It is a mechanism used by a cowardly mindset to place people in a state of submission to tactics that terrorize and maim others. Malcolm’s quote about the need for light is a direct challenge to our human condition. Islam has a verse that portrays light as that essence from Allah that guides us from within.
“Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The example of His light is like a niche within which is a lamp, the lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a pearly [white] star lit from [the oil of] a blessed olive tree, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil would almost glow even if untouched by fire. Light upon light. Allah guides to His light whom He wills. And Allah presents examples for the people, and Allah is Knower of all things.” (Holy Qur’an, chapter Nur(light), verse 35)
Within each and every one of us there is a strength which is ignited by the light of guidance that only comes from the Creator. When we as human beings turn to the Creator for guidance then there is understanding. True understanding opens the door to what our purpose is on this earth, which is to guide others with love through positive words and deeds. That is the essence of Islam and that is what we are missing in our current discourse.
The relationship between the main stream press and the African American community has from the beginning been wrought with misinformation and deception. From the invasion of African lands through slavery up to the present the real story of African people portrayed us to be a people with no worth. What has been presented in the press has given a picture of a race of people who were criminals and murderers.
As founder of the NAACP, W E B DuBois edited their monthly magazine, The Crisis. The magazine was a tool for change during The Jim Crow era when lynching of African Americans was common.
El Hajj Malik Shabazz was a minister of the Nation of Islam. His view about the press was that it would twist the truth against the oppressed. His famous quote, “The press is so powerful in its image making role, it can make the criminal look like he’s the victim and make the victim look like he’s the criminal,” highlighted what he perceived to be the fundamental problem for resolving the race problem in America. He created the newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, in order to uncover the lies that were written in the media during the early 60’s. It was an attempt to teach African Americans, who were denied equal rights under the laws established in this country, about self-worth with dignity.
These two men were examples of what we need to do as people of color. We need our own instruments of communication in order to redirect attention toward our upliftment and to destroy the lies that continue to separate us.